what if

“the problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence 
charles bukowski

sometimes we say “what if” when we are wondering what the future might bring. at other times we are conjuring an alternative past. in one context “what if” can imply a threat, or the coming true of an anxiety; in another it can be hopeful, even whimsical. one thing that “what ifs” never denote is the present moment, and i think this is the reason that i am instinctively opposed to them. our busy minds already make it hard for us to inhabit the here and now. as an avid fan of the present moment, i am inherently averse to ways of looking at life which make connecting with this elusive “here i am” experience even more challenging.

***

i used to listen to proper writers in awe. two of the things i heard them discuss which i found among the most mystifying and intimidating were multiple drafts and repeated edits. way back when the only writing i did involved filling lots of notebooks with repetitive, self-doubting nonsense, i found it impossible to envisage myself having a surfeit of ideas and thereby needing notes and drafts on all kinds of topics. on the matter of editing my own stuff, i simply couldn’t visualise what that would look like. but once i found myself creating this blog, i discovered that editing and re-editing take up far more of my time than i spend on constructing the original text. and while i’m on the subject of editing, i have to say that there is very little i enjoy about the new wordpress editor; mostly it has me bamboozled. one thing i do appreciate is regularly being reminded how many times i’ve revised the piece i’m currently working on. but i’ve just glanced to the right of this screen to check that information, and it is nowhere to be seen; like i said, i’m bamboozled.

before i started this blog i used to go around in circles trying to work out what kind of writer i am. i knew that i was not a novelist, poet, short story writer, or journalist; and knowing this made me suspect i was no kind of writer at all. it was only when i started my blog, and unconsciously pitched my words at an imaginary reader who vaguely resembled me, that i fortuitously found out what kind of writer i am. i am this kind. and i am relieved to say that i now count myself (on most days, at any rate) as one of those proper writers who have loads of drafts and notes, and who can while away an hour arguing with herself about whether to take out or reinstate an individual comma.

i am vicariously frustrated that so many people are still not engaging in the creative project, or projects, which they frequently refer to and suggest they are partaking in. or they are partaking, but only in a silent and secret way which involves no one else in the world witnessing their creativity. some of these people have been swearing they were about to launch said project for years or even decades. peter cook’s quote “i met a man at a party. he said ‘i’m writing a novel’. i said ‘oh really? neither am i’” comes to mind. i am so very grateful that i have found my cup of tea, and that i’m doing my thing; so glad to have overthrown my own previous not-writing, and to no longer be a member of the not-getting-around-to-it club.

***

and there are times when this blog feels like the only thing anchoring me to that fragile thread i mentioned: on days when i can’t get out of bed before it gets dark outside; on which i begin feeling like i don’t exist; and when the media seem to be forcefully hurling messages at me telling me that the important things in life are only to do with rushing about, travelling, procreating, and shouting loudest; and in response to these judgemental messages i become convinced that i am no more than another despicable bit of litter – i’m a discarded paper bag crumpled into an amorphous, dog-eared state, being blown around by a repeated eddying breeze in endless cycles with other bits of torn up paper, chocolate bar wrappers, used tissues, and grubby face masks. but then i remember that i am publishing this blog, inhale with relief, and my feet feel a tad closer to the ground.

***

apparently i’m an “empath”. at least a few people have told me i’m one. i couldn’t possibly say. i draw the line at being described as an hsp, or “highly sensitive person”; the federer fan once suggested i am one of those, when they first came into fashion, but he lived to regret it. the point is that i find it relatively easy to get how other people feel, and to put myself in somebody else’s shoes. but it has come to my attention that i am severely deficient in emotional understanding when it comes to fanciful notions – lately the topic of “what ifs” has risen a number of times: i heard a chap on the radio talking about his book imagining the beatles staying together for long enough to make one more album; an ME commentator who i admire made a vlog suggesting that all ME people have another life in which they imagine what they’d be up to if they weren’t ill; and i am friends with someone who has described to me how he has spent serious portions of his ill life inhabiting an elaborate dreamworld.

good grief! it seems that many people who are ill like me choose to spend significant amounts of their precious energy and time in a fantasy world where they arse about picturing how their life would be if they weren’t ill. as if being ill isn’t hard enough! why on earth would i use energy which i could be using to live my ill life as fully as possible torturing myself with a fabricated and unattainable well existence? that’s almost as crap as recommending to someone who is desperate for a live-in partner that they get a cat for “company”. i am certain that picturing myself swimming in the sea, or writing from dawn till dusk, or raising four bonny children, would not cheer me up. it would make me deeply, extremely unhappy. did these fantasists not get the email explaining how life is not a dress rehearsal, that you’re here for a fleeting moment, then bam! it’s all over, then nothing forever and ever amen? do they suppose that if they wish hard enough they will wake up to find themselves living a different life in a parallel universe? they look around the world and witness torment and suffering all about, and in reaction decide that they are about to start living a life of success and fulfilment…because what? because they are them? if not, if their primary motive for hanging out in their dreamworld is not some crazy kind of hope that they might end up permanently relocating to that place, the practice is even less comprehensible to me. in other words, my empathic skills are less wide-ranging than i’d hoped.

oh yes, also i had a conversation with my brother a few weeks ago in which i asked him whether he is concerned that there might be another, worserer pandemic in the not too distant future. he replied that he doesn’t think like that. later during the same chat my brother enquired if i ever think about what our lives might be like if our family hadn’t moved house when we were teenagers, and i replied that i don’t think like that. ever. i am completely uninterested in what ifs.

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